The next chapter, “Chade’s Servant,” opens with in-milieu commentary on the White Prophet Hoquin before turning to Fitz realizing he is fleeing again, reverting to his childhood behaviors. He sits down in the corridors’ darkness to ponder his options and the likely goals of the Piebalds. He realizes that he is an intended target for the Piebalds, likely to be used by them to drive home their influence over the Farseers.
While mulling over the affair, Fitz overhears the complaints of Dutiful’s intended, the Narcheska Elliania, and uses the spy corridor to observe her more closely. He marks the close relationship between her and Peottre, her mother’s brother, as well as the strange intrusion of a servant who carries orders from “the Lady.” A tense exchange and magical working ensue, and Fitz makes to reach Chade’s chamber.
Therein, Fitz encounters a strange servant, finding him immensely powerful in the Skill. The servant rages at Fitz for a time but eventually returns to his duties, grousing at him all the while in both words and magic, and Fitz begins to be plagued by a headache. He is roused later by Chade, who asks after him, and Fitz reports the Skill the servant–Thick–has. Chade is initially incredulous but soon accepts Fitz’s report; they confer about how to handle the untrained talent and about the situation with the Piebalds. They gloss over Chade’s apprentice assassin, and Fitz reports what he has learned about Elliania. Chade jokes that Fitz is now a journeyman assassin, which Fitz considers uncomfortably and briefly. Talk returns to the Outislanders and their customs, and Chade reassesses matters. He also cautions Fitz regarding Dutiful, and the two confer further on their current situation and the steps they must take to ensure matters proceed well.
Thick has appeared in the novel previously, and Fitz notes as much in the present chapter. This is the first extended focus on him, however, and it presents some problems–largely in the language used to depict him in-milieu. Yes, I know that the chapter is narrated by FitzChivalry and will necessarily reflect his biases, which themselves reflect the biases of the fictional culture in which he is enmeshed and from which he emerges; I know, too, that while Fitz is sympathetic, he is constructed to have any number of failings and foibles and worse about him, and even if he is part of a persecuted minority–although not comfortably so on either side of the exchange–there are other ways in which he remains privileged even in his servile guise as Tom Badgerlock. Intersectionality is a thing, and it was twenty years ago, if less openly than now. Additionally, I know that my attitudes have shifted in twenty years, and I do not recall being taken aback by the presentation of Thick when I first bought and read the book as I am now. But I am, and although I am not as up on disability studies as might be hoped, I am aware enough of it to know that those who are so versed might have things to say about the text. (I note with some interest that the works I’ve annotated as of this writing do not seem to treat it–which is not to say it does not deserve treatment, but none of us can do all of the work that needs doing.)
I’ll note, too, that it was consideration of the present chapter that did much to inform my reconsideration of the Realm of the Elderlings milieu. The explicit discussion of matriarchy among the Outislanders prompted my reconsideration of the cultural antecedents of that culture; I am reminded of as much again in the present chapter, along with the unpleasantly colonialist connotations (drive not least by Chade’s offhanded remark about the Outislanders “leaving behind” their matriarchy–although the Six Duchies does seem to be relatively gender-neutral). So there’s probably more of that kind of thing to be coming in my comments about the succeeding chapters…